When an illness or physical problem causes someone to miss an extended period of work, their employer might decide to fire them. Employees who are let go because of health issues may wonder if this is legal, and many are unsure if it is permissible to fire someone when the circumstances that led to their termination were beyond their control.
All states except for Montana are “at will” states as far as employment is concerned. This means that an employee can quit their job at any time, and that an employer can also fire a worker at any time.
However, employees are protected from being fired from certain actions: someone cannot be fired for discriminatory purposes, or as retaliation for sexual harassment, or for whistle-blowing activities. By the same token, employers are also protected against lawsuits for firing employees who are not accomplishing tasks included in their job descriptions.
If an illness alters one’s ability to complete a job or to attend work at scheduled times, the employee will need to discuss their schedule and obligations with their supervisors.
Example of One Physical Therapist
In one instance, a physical therapist was struck by a car while crossing the street. After taking an approved medical leave to heal, the therapist returned to work. A follow-up surgery was needed to address residual effects from the accident, but the therapist’s employer refused to approve the medical leave. When the therapist took the medical leave anyway to get the follow-up surgery, her employer fired her. She felt it was unfair, but because of laws protecting her employer, she was unable to obtain financial reparations from her previous company. The firing was not discriminatory, and the company pointed to at-will termination laws to justify their decision, citing financial motives.
Medical Act Leave and Discrimination Firing
One woman who had a revised work schedule approved through the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act found herself fired anyways. She is now suing her former employer because she already had the revised schedule approved through the act.
Because of the at-will law, it is very difficult to prove wrongful termination. The statute of limitations for wrongful termination cases may come into effect as soon as a year after termination, so if someone is ill, it is important to pursue legal recourse immediately, where advisable.
Is Suing Financially Feasible?
Due to the difficulty in proving wrongful termination, if one has not worked at the same place of employment for a long time, or was not earning a substantial amount of money, a lawsuit may be an ill-advised idea. These cases are very difficult to prove, and take precious time away from people who might need to spend those hours working or looking for a job. Even in cases where the fired employee may have a legitimate case, lawyer fees and the whims of a potential jury make wrongful termination suits a dicey proposition in all but the most obvious circumstances.
This article was provided by Sandy Wallace, aspiring lawyer concerned with social justice in the workplace. If you are suffering from Mesothelioma, which in turn is jeopardizing your job security, Sandy recommends Shrader Law, your choice for Mesothelioma attorney, to battle health-based discrimination.